NEWS

Why are so many student houses little better than dumps?

It’s a disgrace that 50% plus of students live in houses with mould, and 37% have had to deal with pest infections (figures from a 2012 survey by studentbeans.com).

Thankfully my two are now through university and grotty student houses, but a friend of mine took her son down to university last month and his second year student house was verging on the squalid. It had not been cleaned after the previous occupants, carpets and floors were filthy, bathrooms were mouldy, and cupboards dirty. And I bet the landlord /agent deducted deposit money for “cleaning and maintainance”. I remember seing front doors that hardly locked, windows that were jammed shut, and drafts everywhere from lack of insulation.

These student houses are not cheap either, and in some places students are paying premium prices for appalling accommodation, because the landlords think and indeed do get away with it. In Bristol the norm is around £450/ month, in a house where every room is a bedroom apart from the kitchen and bathroom. Not a bad income for a house where the landlord does nothing to maintain it!

I think its worst in the first year out of halls, as at least the following year the students are more savvy when it comes to choosing accommodation. In that first winter at university panic sets in about finding a house, and who to share with. The local agents talk about needing to make a decision by the first week of January, otherwise there will be nothing decent left, and they are always saying there is nothing much out there, just to engender a bit of added panic.

In my opinion student accommodation should be dealt with through the actual university. Landlords should have to achieve a certain level of cleanliness, decoration and furnishing to entitle them to register on the list. Tenancy agreements could then be standardized, so no one gets ripped off by ‘agents’ finders fees’ and improper deposit deductions at the end of a tenancy. There could also be a proper formal signed inventory form as a start point, which from my experience rarely happens satisfactorily. For kids that have probably never rented anything more than a DVD for the night, the knowledge that the university has approved the landlord, and the terms of the lease,  would be of huge comfort – to students and the parents who have to act a rent guarantors too!

Students are paying commercial rates, and should be regarded as consumers, like anyone else who rents a house. Properties should be properly insulated too – why should a student on low income have to heat a drafty and un-insulated house, when the landlord could well afford to install roof insulation and front doors that don’t have a gale permanently blowing through their sides from November to April? And how long does it often take to get any maintenance issues resolved? If only accommodation that met certain basic standards was taken onto the ‘university agency’ books then a lot of the landlords would have to up their game or miss out on the main student market.

If universities controlled the lettings then they could also more easily control the problems that arise from letting to students – antisocial behaviour, loud music, overflowing bins etc. If damage is caused then, with a proper inventory, fair deductions can be made for repair and redecoration, and at least students will not suffer unfair deposit deductions.